Tue, Mar 12, 2013 - Page 11 News List

Too young to tie the knot

The UN Commission on the Status of Women debates inclusion of child marriage in an agreement on eliminating violence against women, as Malawi seeks to raise its legal age of marriage from 15 to 18

By Liz Ford  /  The Guardian, New York

Part of that initiative is to involve local tribal chiefs, working with them to encourage their communities to send their children to school, especially girls, and to dispel the idea that marrying off girls early will bring blessings to the family.

The issue of funding a child’s studies past primary school, though, remains a challenge. Hara said the president herself currently funds a number of girls through school and is encouraging her ministers to do the same. Hara said the country does not have the money to fund free secondary schooling.

“She [Banda] is encouraging women ministers to identify girls to support, girls in our constituency in challenging situations,” she said. “At the moment, there are no resources to make secondary education free, as there are so many challenges.”

Hara said that giving girls four more years in school would have a positive impact on the rates of child marriage.

Poverty, however, is a major driver of child marriage. Poor families marry off their daughters young, as it will mean one less mouth to feed, and the prospect of receiving a “bride price” — money or livestock in exchange for a daughter’s hand in marriage — is particularly tempting in difficult times.

“It all boils down to poverty ... young girls are being married off before puberty. Someone will come in and give a father a cow for a girl when they are eight or nine years old and when they reach puberty they will give another cow,” Hara said.

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